GULFPORT, Fla. -- On Saturday, a group of cigar smokers staged a "smoke-in" on Gulfport Beach to peacefully protest what they see as an unconstitutional smoking ban.
The ordinance, passed by Gulfport City Council last November in an effort to curb littering problems, bans smoking on the shoreline of Gulfport Beach between the recreation center and the Gulfport Casino.
"There were a lot of concerns, it was first noticed, of the abundance of cigarette butts left on the beach, on the ground, ashes around the picnic tables, places where children frequent and play," says Gulfport Mayor Mike Yakes. "We thought we'd do our part and step in and see what we can do to make a healthier beach and a friendlier beach."
Yakes says the ban has been well-received, especially by parents whose children play by the recreation center and on the beach. And the city thought the ordinance allowed for a compromise, since it still allows smoking between the casino and the pier.
But demonstrators at the smoke-in say the ban goes far beyond what the city has the right to enact.
"Today, it's no smoking on the beach. Tomorrow, it's no grills," says local attorney Andy Strickland, who helped organize the smoke-in.
To bolster their argument, Strickland and others point to Florida Statute 386.209, which "preempts regulation of smoking to the state and supersedes any municipal or county ordinance on the subject," unless it pertains to school districts banning smoking on school property.
"People have to do their part to protect liberty," Strickland says.
For Strickland, that meant getting a citation and a $143 fine from Gulfport Police on Saturday. But for the smoke-in, that's the point: to exercise their right to defend themselves against what they see as overregulation.
The citation also comes with the opportunity to challenge it before the city next month, and Strickland says a lawsuit will eventually be pursued in an effort to nullify the ban altogether.